The Name Game by
(303 Stories)

Prompted By Nicknames

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Suzy Parker, who inspired the spelling of my nickname

My name is Susan, but please don’t call me that. Nobody does except those who only know me in a professional context. When I was practicing law, I was Susan when I went to court, and I guess I still am to my dentist and my doctor. Everyone else calls me Suzy. If they say “Sue,” I don’t even answer, I assume they are talking to someone else.

Shirley, Shirley Bo-ber-ley, ba-na-na fanna Fo-fer-ley. fee fi mo-mer-ley, Shirley! No, that's not the name game I'm talking about.

When I was little, my nickname was spelled Susie. Somewhere around 6th grade, when it was the fashion for girls whose names ended in a long e sound to spell it with an i (like Joni Mitchell or Barbi Benton), I changed the spelling to Suzi. Not sure why I went from an S to a Z in the middle, but it was probably because Susi looks a little strange. Then in 9th grade, I saw either a movie or a television show with Suzy Parker in it, and I was very taken with her, so I changed my spelling again, to be the same as hers, and that’s what it has been ever since.

The one other nickname I had, briefly, was coined by my father. My middle name is Patricia, and when I was little, he called me Supitty, like Sue + Patty. Luckily, it didn’t catch on, nobody else ever called me that, and he stopped when I got older, possibly because I told him I didn’t wanted to be called that any more.

I have to admit that ever since I saw the graphic that we are using for this prompt, I have been thinking about calling myself Trixie! But it’s probably too late to make such a drastic change.

With each of my three children there was a controversy around nicknames.

Not a nickname girl

When my first child was born, we named her Sabrina, after the movie with Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, because I adored Audrey Hepburn but didn’t like the name Audrey. We didn’t plan to call her Sabrina though, we expected to give her a nickname. I wanted to use the nickname Bree, and my husband preferred Brinn, but once she got old enough to express her opinions, she made it clear that she didn’t like either one, and only wanted to be called by her whole name. Then when her little brother couldn’t pronounce Sabrina, and called her Beebo, we thought that was cute and maybe it would stick. She tolerated it from him, but no one else. She was clearly not a nickname kind of girl.

Benj, not Benjie

My second child was Benjamin, a name that is too long for a little boy, so he needed a nickname. Benjie was too cutesy, and Benny sounded like an old man. Ben seemed too mature, something he could grow into, but not a name for a child. So we settled on Benj. This seemed odd to some people, and we had to explain that it was more than Ben but less than Benjie. You just stop after you make the J sound. When we were in Boston, we saw a statue of Benjamin Franklin that said Benj Franklin. “Look,” I said to my small son, “you’re in great company!” It seemed like the perfect nickname to me. But when he got to 7th grade, at a new school where not very many people knew him (because most of the kids from his elementary school went to a different middle school), he decided to become Ben. He told the family that he didn’t expect us to change, so we didn’t. A couple of years later he got mad at us for still calling him Benj. “But you said you didn’t expect us to change,” we said. “Yeah, but I expected you to try to change, and you’re not even trying!” So gradually we did change, once he made it clear that that was what he wanted. It was surprising how hard it was to drop that one letter. Fifteen years later, when “City of Stars” from La La Land, with lyrics by Benj Pasek, won the Oscar for best original song, I said to my son, “See, you could have remained Benj and been a success.” I miss calling him Benj, but he has been Ben for almost two decades, so I should be used to it!

Future Nobel Prize winner?

When I was pregnant with my third child, and we knew it was a girl, my husband wanted to name her Molly, after his grandmother. I liked the idea of calling her Molly, but it seemed like a nickname to me, it would be like naming someone Suzy. My husband’s grandmother was actually Mary Ellen, so Molly was a nickname for her a hundred years ago. I had a friend at the Attorney General’s Office called Molly, whose real name was Mary Elizabeth. I asked her if she liked having the longer name even though nobody had ever called her that, or whether she wished she had just been named Molly. She said she was glad to have the more formal name, and she recommended we give our daughter a more formal name too. “After all,” she said, “when she is walking across the stage in Stockholm to accept her Nobel Prize, she won’t want to be called Molly.”

We decided to take her advice, but it was hard to figure out what that more formal name should be. Most often Molly is a nickname for Mary, but Jewish people don’t name their daughters Mary, so we had to find something else. We spent weeks looking through name books trying to figure it out. It wasn’t until after she was born that my husband discovered the name Amalia. It was beautiful, and it had Molly inside it, phonetically ah-molly-ah. So that’s what we named her. Unfortunately, it turns out that she hates it, and constantly tells us that she wants to change her legal name to Molly. The biggest problem is that most people don’t read carefully, so when they see her name, they say Amelia, like Amelia Earhart. Not a terrible name, but it’s not her name. She has taken to saying icily “It’s Ama-a-alia, there is no E in it!” But it drives her crazy, and I can understand that.

So from Sabrina, who adamantly rejected any nickname, to Ben, who didn’t want to be Benj any more, and then to Molly, who rejects her legal name and only wants her nickname, I get the message that I didn’t play the name game (or the nickname game) as successfully as I would have hoped.

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: funny, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    Do I get bonus points for predicting — even if only to myself — the song title you would choose for your story this week? Even if not, I loved your story. And, happily, I have always known you as Suzy, so never any issue here.

    I especially liked how your story focused on your kids’ nicknames and the difficulty of being on the same page with them on this matter. (Having had a Lizzie morph into a Libby, I know how this works.) It reminds me of learning in some anthropology class how many cultures allow children at a certain age to choose their own names; the names their parents gave them at birth considered simply placeholders. The more I thought about this, the more sense it made. But, for better or worse, we tend to be stuck with the names and nicknames we are first given by others. In this regard, I am reminded of my poor Aunt Dodo, a very serious woman whose first name was Dorothy but the nickname given to her by my father when he couldn’t pronounced Dorothy lasted her entire life. I’m glad Sabrina did not suffer the same fate with Beebo.

    Finally, I love your reference to being called Trixie in honor of the graphic with this week’s prompt. It immediately brought to mind another very serious woman, Mrs. Alice Resnikoff, who was my Latin teacher in high school. She had found an ID bracelet with “Trixie” on it somewhere and just left it on her desk for all to see. She never mentioned it, but, of course, we all began to refer to her as Trixie when not in class. No one would dare say that to Mrs. Resnikoff’s face. But I accidentally let it slip once when I was with her son, Rich, who was on the tennis team with me. Rich laughed and told me not to worry. He said she knew everyone called her that and she loved it. So, just let us know if/when you’d like all of us on Retro to start calling you Trixie.

    • Suzy says:

      Yes, you do get bonus points for predicting the song title, although to be eligible for the grand prize, you need to put your prediction in a sealed envelope and give it to Price, Waterhouse.

      Interesting about the cultures that let children choose their own names, I certainly would not have stuck with Susan, one of the most popular names for girls in the ’40s and ’50s. (There were 5 Susans in my elementary school class.) And I love your story about your Latin teacher – I wonder if she really “found” the ID bracelet or if it was hers from some earlier period of her life. I also wonder where that bracelet is now, and if I could borrow it.

      • John Shutkin says:

        At our high school class 50th reunion in 2017, someone read an “in memoriam” list of our teachers and, sadly (but not surprisingly), Mrs. Resnikoff”s name was on it. (And her son, Rich, was a year ahead of me, so not at our reunion). RIP, Trixie.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    I love learning the derivation of all the names in your family, Suzy! I completely understand the Susan/Sue part, as you will understand when you read my story. I also can understand why Molly’s real name gets misinterpreted so often. I read it quickly (honestly, my eyesight isn’t great and goes in and out of focus) and didn’t see the different letter in the center. I would have been one of those people who called her AmElia, not Amalia, a less common name.

    You will also see that my cousin and I, both named for our paternal grandmother, have saints’ names. She is Mary Elizabeth, I am Elizabeth Ann. Strange but true.

    I confess that your title song choice was a favorite of mine in 7th grade (April, 1966). I knew all the verses (which I know were fluid, but they started the same). It brings back a very happy family trip to Washington, DC and Williamsburg. We were there for the cherry blossoms, met with our Congressman, went to the JFK gravesite (before IM Pei re-designed it; at this point, it was behind a picket fence with hats from the branches of the armed forces by the eternal flame; poignant), the Lincoln Memorial and other sites, had a great time in Williamsburg. I can’t remember why, but we were on some sort of public trolley with kids from across the country doing school trips. They were all singing the song and I got up and sang it too, to the amusement of my family.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks for your comment, Betsy, this story was fun to write! I liked the song a lot too, it was easy to sing once you got the pattern, and you could put in any name you wanted to. I remember kids getting a big kick out of putting in Chuck, because then you ended up saying a bad word after banana-fana fo! Are you sure you were in 7th grade in April 1966? I thought you were two years behind me, and I was in 10th grade then. If you graduated from HS in 1970, you would have been in 8th grade in ’66. However, the song came out in 1964, so maybe your trip to DC was in 1965.

      • Betsy Pfau says:

        Just looked in my photo album, Suzy. You are right, I stand corrected. April, 1965!

        Seeing news reports from DC and the cherry blossoms in bloom have made me want to go look at my father’s home movies (I transferred them to video, then to DVD years ago). We took movies out the car window as we passed the Jefferson Memorial, with all the cherries in bloom. Made me wistful.

  3. Marian says:

    Really like the rundown on your kids’ nicknames, Suzy. A strange coincidence, I went to college with a woman named Amalia whose nickname was Molly, which was what everyone called her. I like Benj! Just different enough, but I could see the reasoning behind your son wanting to be called Ben.

    • Suzy says:

      Marian, how great that you went to college with an Amalia/Molly! I wonder whether she liked it or not. We have met one other as well, an Israeli, who was a few years older than our Molly. But it’s certainly rare.

  4. Hey Trixie! Take away the ‘A’ from Amalia and you get Malia — as in Obama, and the pronunciation changes entirely. I LOVE the name Molly beyond words. There’s just something about it I can’t quite describe. Kind of retro, yes? And I love Benj, too, although Ben has a quiet dignity and strength I adore. And who wouldn’t love to be named Sabrina, especially after Audrey Hepburn?! And of course I love that you’re emphatically Suzy, it suits you! I’d forgotten about Suzy Parker…and wasn’t she the original super model? Anyone call you Suzy-Q?
    And isn’t that a song?

    Funny that we both mentioned Barbi Benton. And so glad you brought up Chuck in an earlier comment or I would have had to! And then of course there’s Bart.

    • Suzy says:

      Thank you for your enthusiastic endorsement of all my name choices! You’re right, Suzy Parker was the first supermodel, the first to make more than $100 an hour and $100,000 a year, according to her obit in the NY Times. And I have frequently been called Suzy-Q (I even have a sweatshirt with that nickname on it), and love all the versions of the song, especially those by the Stones and Creedence.

      After the Obamas came along, we had someone pronounce Molly’s name Ah-ma-LEE-ah, like the Obama daughter. She didn’t like that either, although it was better than AmEElia.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    While I knew your name must have been Susan, like so many girls back then, I love the story of how you became Suzy. It’s unique and I can’t picture you being called anything else. As for our kids, we can’t control what they end up wanting to be called. My first shortened his name, my second was never called anything other than her given name, and my third hated that fact that her name was so short and thus, did not suggest a nickname. She complained that we only gave her 4 letters, Dana, but then named her daughter Ava, only 3 letters. Go figure. That’s what makes nicknames so interesting.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Laurie. I always wished my name were Suzanne or Susanna, they seemed so much more interesting than plain old Susan. And less common.

      How funny about your daughter Dana complaining that her name was too short and then giving her own daughter an even shorter name.

  6. Wonderfully informative story! Your name’s evolution from Susan to Susie to Suzi to Suzy is a nice reminder that children take their names very seriously. I am impressed by how sensitive you were to your children’s feelings about their names, perhaps because you yourself had completed a childhood quest for the perfect spelling. But as you admit and as I know very well, it is very hard to change when a child’s nickname has been hardwired into a parent’s mind. (Actually, it is also imposssible to stop thinking of them as children no matter how old they are, because that is definitely hard-wired into our brains.) Thank you for including those sweet pictures of all of them.

    • Suzy says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Joan. I like your observations about things being hardwired into our brains, because I found that I took great delight in typing the name “Benj” in this story, since I’m not allowed to use it any other time. I did try to be sensitive to my children’s feelings about their names, so I’m glad that came through to you.

  7. Suzy works very well for you although I must confess that I think Everly Brothers when I hear your name. What’re you gonna tell your mama/What’re you gonna tell your pa/ What’re you gonna tell your friends when they say ‘ew-la-la…

    Sorry that Molly doesn’t like Amalia. It sounds trés sophistique!

    • Suzy says:

      Yes, I’m fond of that Everly Brothers song. You might recall that I wrote in an earlier story about how the neighbor up the street used to sing it to me every morning as I walked past her house on my way to elementary school.

  8. Funny Suzy!
    I guess you just can’t please kids!

    We had only one child and wanted to name him for my husband’s late father Naftali. We came up with the name Noah which we thought was a bit unusual. But I guess we were wrong since in his kindergarten class there were 3 Noah’s.

    The teacher trained them to always write their names as Noah G,, Noah L, and Noah R.

    For Mother’s Day the kids made cards. Mine was signed,
    NOAH L..

    • Suzy says:

      Yes, Noah became a very common name in the ’80s here. Also Noa without the h for a girl. Don’t know when your Noah was born. Funny that he signed a card to you with his last initial, but of course that was what he had been trained to do.

      • Thanx Suzy,
        My Noah was born in 1975, went to a small school, and the families of the 2 other Noahs are still good friends of ours. One of the families has another son they named Ethan. They thought Ethan was a rather unusual name, then they discovered there were 3 Ethans in HIS kindergarten class!

  9. Many touchstones in this good story, Suzy.

    The youngest of my three sisters – each of whom is older – is a Suzanne. Growing up the entire family called her “Sue”. Only years later did she reveal that she hated that. She was “Suzie”. So be it.
    The ending “i” phenomenon: runs in families. My second wife was “Sheri”. Her mother was “Mari” and her daughter “Becki”. They each had, shall we say, healthy egos so I guess no surprise.
    Last and least, one of the many dogs in my past was this wonderful Akbash, a real Amazon of a creature. Fearless and stubborn. Forever in mischief but never in a truly bad way. She was a Molly. Perfect name said while shaking one’s head and shrugging one’s shoulders.

    • Suzy says:

      Molly seems to be a very popular name for dogs, which does not please my daughter at all. Also there is a drug called Molly. But despite those things, she still likes her nickname, it’s her “big” name that she doesn’t like.

      • Not surprising re the use as a dog name: it’s a great “call name”. Usually the best call names are two long vowels – Phoebe is a great one although at the time my younger son’s five year old friend called her “Fleabee”. “Molly” is great because of the stress of the first syllable.

        Follow up re Sue/Susan/Suzanne/Suzie/Suzy: I am reminded of “Susan” Francia who is a great rower and was part of the US Olympic 8 in 2012. But she’s not native-born and she’s not really “Susan”: she was christened Zsuzsanna. She goes by “ZuZu”.

  10. What a wonderful description of name/nickname conflicts and resolutions. I’m sure many people could relate (nicknames were in short supply in our family.) I would have been so happy with the name Susan, but Suzy is classy and delightful. It was a perfect choice. I also admired Suzy Parker (The movie “The Best of Everything” was a touchstone for me) and I cannot count the # of times I watched “Sabrina”. (What were they thinking when they produced a remake? You cannot improve perfect!) My daughter is named after my husband’s beloved grandmother, who I met and loved. When she died a year before I became pregnant, I knew, if we had a girl, we would honor her. But her English name was Minnie (from the Yiddish, Minka) and I was afraid kids would call her Minnie Mouse or “Minka Stinka”! So we settled on Mindy, which I always regretted. It still sounds like a nickname to me. (As you noted about the name Molly.) I wanted to call her Minna, and use the nickname Mindy, but my husband vetoed that. Then along came the popular show “Mork and Mindy” and thank goodness the Mindy character was sweet and pretty. A while back I asked Mindy if she like her name and she said she did. (Maybe because the surname “Gootblatt” was so non-euphonious). Made me feel lots better…

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks for your comment, Sara. I think I need to see “The Best of Everything” – not sure if I ever saw it back in the day. I own a copy of “Sabrina” and of the remake as well, although you’re right, you can’t improve perfect. 🙂

      I knew a girl called Mindy who went to camp with me, whose real name was Melinda. I thought that worked pretty well. I’m glad you asked your daughter if she liked her name and she said yes.

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